In Trinidad and Tobago, roucou is a liquid extract made with the seeds of the roucou tree (Bixa orellana). The seeds are covered in a red pigment that contains important antioxidant and antimicrobial compounds, namely bixin and norbixin (learn more about them here).
The liquid is used as a seasoning for meats, rice and other dishes and is often used as a natural, healthy substitute for browning sauce.
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Ingredients for roucou
For this recipe, I used:
- roucou pods: It’s really the seeds you need for the recipe, which you can find on Amazon here. I got fresh roucou pods in the market and each pod yielded about 2 grams of seeds. So, I used 12 pods and got about 24 grams of the seeds which measured about 1/4 cup. Feel free to scale up this recipe to make a large batch of homemade roucou.
- warm water: this is needed to extract the red pigment from the seeds. Cool water can also be used, but warm water speeds up the extraction process.
- salt: this is often used to ‘cure’ or preserve the roucou. If you are making small batches or plan to use the roucou within a month, then, you may not need to add salt. But, for a longer shelf life, salt is needed.
Equipment for making roucou
The red pigment can stain your hands and surfaces so be sure to use food-grade gloves and stain resistant wares. You will also need a strainer for this recipe.
How to make homemade roucou
Homemade roucou usually requires 2 parts warm water per 1 part roucou seeds (also called annatto or achiote seeds). After the pigment is extracted, you can either add excessive amounts of salt to preserve the liquid or you can bring to a simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes and add a pinch of salt. I’ll be doing the latter.
Extract the seeds
Step 1: If you are using the roucou pods like me, squeeze both sides of the pod to pop it open. Pull apart each side.
Step 2: Using your fingers or a small spoon, remove the seeds from the roucou pod. If you are using roucou seeds from Amazon, you can skip steps 1 and 2. Remember roucou can stain so be sure to use gloves. Also, if you have extra seeds, place them in an airtight container and store in a dark cupboard or in the fridge to use later.
Extract the pigment
Step 3: Add the roucou seeds and warm water to a small bowl (that won’t be stained). You can see streaking in the water as the pigment already starts to separate from the seeds.
Step 4: Using your hands (preferably while wearing gloves), rub the seeds together in the water to extract the pigment. The longer you do this, the more pigment will be extracted. I did this for about 10 minutes or so and you can see many seeds without the pigment (second photo).
Step 5: Strain the liquid to remove the seeds and strain a second time to remove any fine bits. At this point, you can do one of two things: (1) you can move on to Step 6; or (2) you can add about 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt, bottle the roucou and store in a dark cupboard or in the fridge. I’m doing option (1) here.
Step 6: Pour the strained red liquid into a small pot. Place on the stove on low heat and simmer for about 5 minutes or so. The heating helps to disinfect the roucou, in the same way as adding excessive salt would, however, if you want to avoid the salt, heating is a great option. Note, while heating the roucou, it will darken in color slightly. Also, turn off the heat if it starts to boil.
Step 7: Add a pinch of salt to the roucou. Stir and turn off the heat. Set aside to cool for about 1 hour.
Step 8: Once cooled, pour the roucou liquid into a sterilized bottle and store in the fridge. It can last for months in the fridge. Note, my recipe only makes 1/3 cup of roucou.
Homemade roucou recipe
- food safe gloves
- 1/4 cup roucou seeds (24 grams or 12 roucou pods)
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Open the pods by squeezing their sides together.
- Remove the seeds using a small spoon or your fingers.
- Add the seeds to a small bowl.
- Pour warm water over the seeds.
- Mix and rub the seeds to remove the red pigment (about 10 minutes).
- Strain the mixture.
- Strain again.
- Place a small pot on the stove on low heat.
- Pour the roucou liquid into the pot.
- Allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
- Mix in salt.
- Turn off the heat.
- Allow to cool for 1 hour.
- Bottle and refrigerate.
- The red pigment stains so wear gloves and use stain resistant wares.
- If the liquid begins to boil while simmering, turn off the heat.
- You can skip heating the roucou and, instead, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt to the mixture before bottling.